“There are very few human beings who receive the truth, complete and staggering, by instant illumination. Most of them acquire it fragment by fragment, on a small scale, by successive developments, cellular, like a laborious mosaic.” - Anals Nin
It’s a long, steep, uphill climb, ascending White Oak Mountain to this spot in the hardwoods. When the temperature bounces around freezing the heavy climbing stand stays in the barn and the lightest and most uncomfortable dove stool is the optimal tool for sitting in this patch of woods. After this long climb it’s more than easy to have your best pair of long johns drenched from overactive perspiration glands. Sitting wet and getting cold, no matter the layers of warmth packed up the mountain, makes the hike up the side of the mountain about all of the fun one man can stand.
From high on this ridge, you can look east and watch the sun light up the ragged Appalachians some 50 miles out. Some maps call these mountains, off in the distance, the Unakas. Some will tell you It’s Polk County you see out there in the dim first light. I’m pretty sure I can see deep into North Georgia and guess where the meandering Conasauga River spills out of these tall, rock strewn mountains into both states.
As the sun struggles over the mountains they slowly turn subtly changing shades of purple. Shades of purple that few artists have ever managed to do them justice. For only a fleeting few minutes the sun manages to fill the clouds with reds and yellows that glow like embers in a cold night’s campfire. The glow fades so rapidly that you find yourself asking if you actually saw that fire or did you simply imagine that? The dense clouds snuff the light and the mountains to the East fade to a dense but soft purple again.
The tree where the stool sits is horizontal. A big Red Oak that must have fallen in the prime of leaf season. The leaves are hanging on as if they had been superglued in place for perpetuity. These brown withered warriors have simply refused to join their slowly decomposing brothers and sisters on the floor of the ridge where millions have ended their once green stage of life. Shriveled and clam like, the unwilling oak leaves clatter, click and rattle in the soft breeze like castanets. Only the few squirrels compete with louder leaf noise.
Castanets remind me of an old John Wayne movie where John swaggers into a dark border town cantina after a hard twenty minutes of trying to quell some western evil. He orders a dusty brown bottle of “Rot Gut Aiming Fluid,” flips a heavy gold coin on the bar, and settles in a dark corner table with his back to the wall. Back to the wall is a wise move in a room full of toothless Comancheros, horse thieves, various and sundry outlaw types and cheroot smoking homeboys who all seem to eye old John with bent eyes and a general case of Gringo disdain.
What’s all this have to do with castanets you ask? The beautiful hostess arrives. She has no sleeves covering her broad tan shoulders. Her billowing ensemble translates to immediate desire and danger. Her raven hair is wild and exotic, compete with spit curls and her rustling turquoise necklace rest softly on her over ample heaving cleavage. She twirls her full skirt and dances the fandango for old John, to the hypnotic rhythm of her clicking castanets. The cantina whoops at the excitement as she dances to a crescendo and lands at the tall gringo’s feet. She eyes him with eyes that say things that only those that have been to a dark border town cantina can understand or decipher.
The wind in the dry leaves make it hard to hear much of anything other than castanets and memories of a long ago visit to a bar in Tijuana.
The leaves on the floor of this ridge are the color and hew that every impressionist painter dreams of painting. The hardwoods are thousands of shades of grey that no paint manufacturer cold ever attempt to capture in a lifetime of work. There are splatters of pine, cedar and mats of hackberry that somehow resemble a strange mixture of green mixed with magenta. There is no sunlight filtering these colors. The sun can’t burn through the cold clouds on this frosty December morning.
This patch of earth is famous for the intersections between whitetails and trees where I plant myself. I’m not too certain why, but it is a spot where an annual intersection seems to occur frequently. I’ve lost track of the encounters over a decade where the deer have walked on, to walk another day.
Others are stuck in the memory to last. The nine point drop tine that saw me sitting on the old log about the time I saw him. Who could forget how he registered the log as something odd before he slowly turned around and tried to tiptoe from whence he came. There was the heavy massed six point that chased the doe to the tree at high noon. Followed by the eight point that frantically grunted his way to the tree following a doe at one o’clock. The eight point grunted like an Armenian weight lifter trying to set some Olympic record for the dead lift. There was the one where I excitedly took my eye off of the spot where he was standing at the time I shot. That was a memorable trail to follow and a longer evening with a dying flashlight.
I’m not sure why these deer frequent this area. No corn, no salt, no clover patch has ever been here. For that matter there doesn’t even seem to be much to eat on this side of the mountain once the nuts vanish.
Maybe it’s a subtle geographical saddle where descending the Western facing slope of White Oak Mountain is a little easier to navigate. The western facing slope is cliff banded in a good many spots. There are black diamond ski slopes in the Canadian Rockies that are less severe. Maybe it’s just as simple as a doe being badly confused about her role in life while fleeing the most pressing encounter she has ever encountered by running down hill as fast as she can. This may be as good a spot as any for such an intense situation. Who would have guessed?
But, on this cloudy, windy December morning, there are only squirrels and castanets to hear. Purples fades to tarnished silver and pewter in the distant east. It’s easy to imagine a glaze of snow or ice at those altitudes. The low clouds obscure the old mountains as the sunlight never glances the earth’s tan floor.
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